NEW YORK — After just one playoff performance, the following reality has set in for the Bulls:
The Brooklyn Nets finished the season relatively healthy and clicking on all cylinders. The Bulls have been playing short-handed, dealing with shifting lineups, and have several key players still limited by injuries.
It will take just 1 win to even the series, but the Bulls have their work cut out.
They were thoroughly beaten in Saturday’s Game 1, outscoring the Nets by 10 points in the fourth quarter just to get the final score down to 106-89.
The Bulls are well-regarded as perhaps the league’s most resilient team. But they’ve got one meeting day and a shootaround to try to fix that miserable showing before Game 2 on Monday at the Barclays Center.
“We know what we have to do — go out there and guard,” Jimmy Butler said Sunday at the team hotel in Manhattan. “That was the biggest problem; they got whatever they wanted on offense. We weren’t the aggressors on defense.
“That’s easily corrected, so we just have to go out and do it on Monday.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau had no trouble pinpointing when things went wrong for the Bulls. They trailed 15-12 with 3:48 left in the first quarter, then watched Brooklyn finish the quarter on a 10-2 run and shoot 80 percent from the field in the second to build the lead to 25.
At the start of the game the Nets went to center Brook Lopez and point guard Deron Williams almost exclusively. That pair took 15 of 20 shots and scored 22 of 25 points in the first quarter.
Once those two were established, Brooklyn started getting contributions from Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and even C.J. Watson.
Watson, the guy who shot 28.9 percent in 22 playoff games for the Bulls the past two years, went 6-for-8 for 14 points in Game 1.
“They have three players that are going to require a lot of attention,” Thibodeau said, adding Johnson to the dangerous list. “So you have to go in and say, ‘OK, anytime we commit two to the ball, what are we willing to live with?’
“Anytime you put two on the ball, you’re going to give something up. But you have to be able to take care of the ball in the paint and go out and challenge shots. Now the thing you have to ask is are you executing it correctly and are you doing it hard enough?
“There’s a couple things we’re going to do a little bit differently, but we’ll see.”
The Bulls don’t have to look back very far to find an example of how a lopsided Game 1 can be meaningless. The Bulls beat Miami by 21 points in the opener of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, then dropped the next four contests.
A year ago they lost Derrick Rose to a torn ACL in the playoff opener and had to figure out quickly how to play without him. Even though the Bulls’ current lineup is flawed, it should be the same Monday.
Thibodeau said Joakim Noah’s sore right foot felt relatively good Sunday and Kirk Hinrich is fine after leaving Game 1 with a thigh bruise.
To stay competitive in this series, the Bulls need to either find a way to slow down Lopez and Williams, or at least shut down everyone else.
“I think for us as a team, we know we could be a lot better,” Luol Deng said. “We will be a lot better in the next game. We didn’t do what we’ve been doing (all season).
“We’ve had a lot of guys out, a lot of guys back in the lineup. You tend to relax a little bit, thinking that guys are back, now you’re deeper.
“Sometimes when you have those guys out, you play harder knowing those guys are out. I think we have to have the mindset of playing like how we’ve been.”
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